Monday, June 22, 2009

Proper 9 Year B

Proper 9 Year B
(Revised Common Lectionary)

II Samuel 5:1-5,9-10; Psalm 48
OR Ezekiel 2:1-5; Psalm 123
II Corinthians 12:2-10; Mark 6:1-13

Following the formative, dramatic events of David's youth and the tragic death of the King, Saul, and his eldest son, Jonathan, David is made king of both north and south in a united Israel. Rather than reign from the existing capital city of the south or north, he establishes a new capital city in neutral area between the two-- "the city of David," Jerusalem.

Images and metaphors tumble over one another as the psalmist describes "the King's city," "Mt. Zion," as God's "home," "holy mountain," which survives the assaults of enemies and from which God's justice extends to all.

The Lord instructs Ezekiel to stand-up and listen. The Lord is sending Ezekiel as a prophet to Israel, whose checkered history of rebellion and stubborness are well-known. But declare to them, "Thus says the Lord...." in such a way that whatever their response, they will know beyond any doubt that 'there has been a prophet among us."

The psalmist petitions the Lord with a longing that could be compared to someone waiting on the direction/wishes of one in authority/loyalty (slave/master, slavegirl/mistress), despite the "scorn of some."

Continuing his attempt to develop a relationship with the community of believers in Corinth, Paul alludes to one of his ecstatic experiences from the past when he was "caught up in Paradise." Despite "the exceptional character of the revelations," Paul is kept humble by an unidentified "thorn in the flesh." Even his "weakness" becomes an opportunity to testify.

Mark explores the full range of reactions to Jesus in his narrative. In contrast to the eager acceptance of Jesus by two complete strangers (in last Sunday's reading), Jesus' return to his hometown, Nazareth, where he is met with derision. They acknowledge that he speaks with "wisdom" and acts with "power" with others, but this is just a local guy and so they do not take any steps to follow him. "And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them." After this disappointment, Jesus moves on to other towns and villages. He deputizes his disciples and sends them out in pairs. Go, Jesus instructs them, and be effective where you are welcomed and where you are not welcomed, just move on to another town.

Common sense and general consensus define religion. It is about believing certain claims. And one's faithfulness is a reflection of correct understanding of these claims and corresponding behavior. One aligns herself with like-minded people who are vigilant against deviations within or threats from outside.

But biblical narratives, in all their wonderful diversity, have the same effect-- they disrupt common sense assumptions. They use an entirely different vocabulary, with repeated emphasis on particular words and their many synonyms -- risk, trust, justice with others especially those with whom we have the greatest differences, invitation, journey, and authentic, personal loyalty despite our flagrant flaws. They are bold and not of our own invention. They have the unmistakable feel that a "prophet has been among us." The emphasis is not on system, certitude or sameness but on relationship and personal journey.

Mark's description of Jesus' return to his hometown teaches us that just when we think we have defined how God acts, we are proven wrong, again. This episode also has embedded a warning in it. God ways do not overwhelm, but could better be described as take-it-or-leave-it. God offers the gift of living life more fully than conventional wisdom predicts, but we-- and only each person individually-- accepts or rejects the gift. It is shocking to discover that the transaction is so fragile, more subject to human whim or mistunderstanding than we might have assumed. Furthermore, Mark teaches by way of story that among those who do not accept God's gift, God "can do no deed of power...."

As Paul's own personal story reminds us, the "thorn[s] in the flesh" we all carry do not go away, they might even become more obvious to ourselves and others, but somehow work into our own authenticity.

In the introduction to
Oneself As Another, Paul Ricoeur summarizes, "attestation can be defined as the assurance of being myself acting and suffering." The discussion that immediately precedes provides more explanation. "... Attestation is confronting the ... humiliated cogito-- credence is ... a kind of trust...." "This trust will, in turn, be a trust in the power to say, in the power to do, in the power to respond to the accusation in the from of the accusative" 'It's me here'" (p. 22)

Reading the biblical narratives week after week, what is really going on here finally sinks in, if we let it. God's prophets, in all their guises, including the local boy of Nazareth, dismantle our certitudes and nudge us toward an adventure,
the adventure of our lifetime. It is scary to realize how easy it is to miss their pointing that never shoves us in the right direction. It is also humbling to admit how clumsy we are in our response to this generous invitation. Perhaps only after we have explored the usual "religious" dead-ends can we accept the gift of God's invitation, sheepishly pointing out to our Host the "thorn[s] in the flesh" which actually are usually more obvious to others than to ourselves anyway. But then there are experiences that can only be attributed to the "deeds of God's power" in us. And we know we are finally on the right road when we realize we have become a deputized disciple, the means of God's power in the lives of others! "It's me here."